3rd Friday of Easter
This morning the liturgy presents us with three different encounters with the risen Lord.
The first is St Paul’s, when the Light from heaven struck him down on the road to Damascus. He met Christ personally, and heard him call out his name. In a moment of grace, he saw his whole life focused on the one goal, the Light, which St Benedict in the Prologue to his Rule would call the “deifying Light”. From now on, he would always live his life in the direction of this goal, this Light, because Someone had loved him enough to strike him to the heart. He had a totally new approach to life, which later he would express in one of his favorite phrases, “I in Christ and Christ in me”. In the words of today’s Collect, he “came to know the grace of the Lord’s resurrection” and himself rose “to newness of life”.
The second encounter with the risen Lord is our own meeting with him at the Gospel. Everything in the liturgy up to this point is a preparation for our first meeting with Christ in the Gospel. Whenever the Gospel is read at Mass, the risen Lord comes into the assembly in the form of his word, and we respond to him at the end, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”. St John’s Gospel is especially rich in the sayings of the risen Lord, which is why the Church has assigned it to the Easter season. This morning’s Gospel is a good example. Everything is in the present tense: Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him; and I have life because of the Father; and this is the bread that came down from heaven. These are statements of the risen Christ, how he lives now, still a man of flesh and blood, but with a glorified body which can become food and drink for us: For my flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.
The Gospel prepares us for one more encounter with the risen Lord, in Holy Communion, when we meet Christ himself and receive his Body and Blood. Whoever eats his Flesh and drinks his Blood remains in him and he in them. The one who feeds on me, he says, will have life because of me, but not a life which comes from consuming ordinary food, which we digest in order to grow. Instead, the Eucharist is like what St Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “It is not you who will change me into yourself, like bodily food; it is I who will change you into me”. And just as I now live forever, whoever eats this bread will live forever.
The early Church was very much aware of the Eucharist as an encounter with the risen Lord as he speaks in the Gospel, and as he gives himself to us in communion. The acclamation in the Preface, “We lift up our hearts to the Lord”, was often understood as a reference to the glorified Christ. We could even say that this acclamation sums up the whole liturgy in which we meet Christ sacramentally, the same Christ who appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. All of us lift up our hearts to the glorified man Jesus who approaches us in the liturgy. May this morning’s meeting with the Lord help us to grow in love, so that he may raise us up on the last day.